My dad has been packed for the last three days and has devised a minute-by-minute schedule of our activities. My mother and I have had daily conversations about what she should wear. “What bag should I bring? What should I wear on the plane? Should I take those shoes?” It’s pretty obvious that they are excited about our trip to Paris. Honestly, I am, too. I get to play tour guide on my parent’s retirement trip of a lifetime. Neither of my parents have been to Europe or traveled much outside of the United States, save for a high school or college reunion Caribbean cruise. They devoted all of their discretionary spending to sending my sister and I to elite private schools and expensive colleges, which didn’t leave much money or time left for jet-setting around the world. So, this is a big deal for them. My mom has said on several occasions, “At least I’ll be able to say I saw Paris before I died.” Hopefully, we’ll make it to more destinations on her bucket list before then. My parents even took up exercise classes together so that they would be ready for all the walking.
I am considered the travel expert in the family, but it isn’t like we haven’t logged some serious miles as a family unit. My parents like to drive. They thought nothing of loading up the car with my sister and I sufficiently buffered in the back to prevent annoying touching or breaching of imaginary space. We had a yellow, wood-paneled station wagon once, which we loved because we could declare the backseat and the cargo space as separate queendoms on our drives. We mostly drove south to visit grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. When it came time to consider to college, we drove north and west, touring colleges as we went. We drove to Disney World. Sometimes, we drove with an extraterrestrial egg-like contraption strapped to the top of the car with our luggage in it. This wasn’t the most convenient of travel inventions. We often had to stop the car to adjust it or tighten it, so that we wouldn’t leave our belongings in a trail down 95. After the movie “Vacation” came out in the 80s, my mom liked to joke that we were like the Griswolds.
My dad planned meticulously for these trips. He’d go to AAA for their famed “Trip Tiks,” probably the best reason to join AAA at the time besides the roadside assistance, which I am sure we took advantage of, too. Our dining room table would look like a cartographer’s workshop with highlighted maps spread hither and yon. And yet, somehow there was still one wrong turn made during our travels which led to much map flapping and debate over the proper direction.
No trip was complete without my sister, April. Even with attempts at creating our own personal space, she often chose to disregard it, using me as her personal pillow during these rides, until it got too hot or my leg or arm started to fall asleep. We each brought essential items along for the trip like pillows, books and tapes. We couldn’t stand when a good radio station faded and turned to static. We were always at the ready with our favorite songs. This time, April is bringing along her husband, Steve, and a growing rise in her belly containing my nephew.
This is definitely going to be different than any of our childhood drives. But maybe not, we are essentially the same people and bound to do or say something silly, make a wrong turn and encroach upon one another’s personal space. But that’s what makes traveling together fun. I am really looking forward to seeing my family’s reaction to the sights of Paris, particularly the food. Over the next seven days, we will be true tourists taking in the Eiffel Tour, Louvre and other iconic sights along with a Black Paris Tour, cooking class and dinner cruise along the Seine. This time the Bennefields and the Williamses have wings. (Check out pictures of the travelers below.)